Q: I have booked in to get my first dose of the Covid-19 vaccination soon. Following the Government's announcement on Thursday that children over 12 could get it too, I was planning on taking my 14-year-old with me to get hers. However, my ex-husband has told me that he does not want her to get the vaccine. My elderly father lives with us so I want to vaccinate my daughter to protect him. Can I vaccinate my daughter without her father's consent? Does it help if my daughter wants the vaccine?
On August 19, Cabinet agreed that the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine would be available for 12- to 15-year-olds. Now that the vaccine is available for older children, it is likely to become an issue for guardians.
Vaccination is a guardianship decision
Whether a child is vaccinated against any illness is a guardianship decision and must be made jointly between guardians. You cannot unilaterally decide to vaccinate your daughter when your ex-husband has told you that he does not consent.
Try to resolve the matter informally
The first step in every guardianship dispute should be for you to try to reach an agreement between you and your ex-husband. There is a lot of information available about the safety of the covid-19 vaccination.
Children have also been more susceptible to serious illness with the Delta variant of the virus. This has made it even more important for children to get vaccinated if they can. It is clear from the latest outbreak in Auckland that schools provide opportunity for the virus to spread quickly.
Direct your ex-husband to sources such as:
• The Ministry of Health website
• The World Health Organisation
Family Dispute Resolution
Your next step should be to attempt to reach a resolution through Family Dispute Resolution. This service is subsidised by the Government. It may be free for you if you are on a low income.
The two major providers are:
• Family Dispute Resolution Centre
In general, vaccination disputes are difficult to resolve at mediation as there is limited room to compromise. However, if you can resolve the dispute at mediation it will save on time and costs.
Apply to the Family Court
If you cannot agree between yourselves, you can apply to the Family Court for an order to settle a dispute between guardians. The court will consider the welfare and best interests of your daughter in her particular circumstances. This may include considerations such as her overall health and her ability to be around her grandfather unvaccinated. It may take some time for the court to make its decisions.
The child's views
In New Zealand, consent to medical decisions can be given from the age of 16. However, if a child over 12 has the capacity to consent, then they can choose or refuse to get a vaccine. Whether the child has capacity to consent will depend on how well they can understand the situation and make decisions.
In matters that affect the child, the Family Court must give that child an opportunity to have their views heard. As your daughter is 14, she is likely of an age and level of maturity where the court would give significant weight to her views.
You cannot make the decision to vaccinate your daughter without her father's consent. If possible, try to resolve the dispute between you and your ex-husband. If you cannot agree on what is best for your daughter, you can apply to the Family Court for an order to resolve a dispute between guardians. The court will likely consider your daughter's views and her relationship with her grandfather.
- Jeremy Sutton is a senior family lawyer, specialising in divorce cases where there are significant assets, including family trusts and complex business structures.